French Renaissance April 2022

It’s a momentous day. After two and a half years we’ve renewed our acquaintance with Brittany Ferries’ trusty vessel, Barfleur and have managed to cross the English Channel and get to France. Oh- and it also happens to be Polling Day for the French, who are choosing between Emmanuel Macron and Marine le Pen.

                It’s an early start to be ready, packed up and into the sparse queue for check-in at Poole, but we are luckier than most as it’s a short drive for us. And it’s quiet on a Sunday. We been a little anxious about attempting another trip abroad after the Iceland debacle, but once we’ve trundled to the booth we only need our passports and vaccine passes, then we’re through and in spite of a security check of the van, [due perhaps to being the ‘1 in 10’ or whatever], it’s all straightforward.

                The ferry is quiet, occupied by ancient travellers such as ourselves and one or two young couples with toddlers making the most of back-to-school time. There are no excitable parties of schoolchildren galloping round and round the decks and no gangs of teenagers crowding the shop and thrashing hell out of the gaming machines.

                We get a quick coffee and a pastry then descend to the deck below where a salon offers warmth, quiet and comfortable recliners. Soothed by the engines, gentle swell of the sea and sunshine I’m soon drowsy and most of the crossing passes in a pleasant, sleepy stupor.

We are soon making our way down a familiar route towards Bretagne and our first planned night’s stop, an aire at Tremblay. It’s not hard to find, sandwiched between the cemetery and some old people’s homes and it;s dead quiet[!], except for a yard full of dogs yapping. We’re on our own in the 8 place aire, which has a service point and little else. A short stroll around the village reveals little on this sleepy Sunday, the two bars and everything else closed apart from the Mairie, which is a polling station. I’ve been hoping to fill my water bottles as we’re close to being out of water and the service point ‘ne marche pas’ so I make a cheeky entrance to the polling station and beg some water from the kindly polling clerk, who is very obliging.I thank her and wish her luck whilst itching to know who’s in the lead…

My French is rusty from 2 years of disuse but begins to be revived. We sleep well in our spot next to the cemetery. Aires often seem to be situated by churchyards, or sometimes sports grounds or police stations. Next morning there’s very little traffic to disturb us except for the dustbin lorry. We make a feeble attempt to get water from the service point, which rejects our 2E coin, give up and get underway.

We’re getting back into the swing of it- but we’re too far in towards the centre of Vannes to find a large supermarket by the time we think of it and the SATNAV leads us unhelpfully to a non-existent Hyper-U in the centre of town. We locate a Carrefour at last but find ourselves grabbing a quick lunch in the subterranean gloom of the car park.

Our mobile internet has failed us, a hitch that needs solving. The giant store has an ‘Orange’ outlet and we head there, to find my burgeoning recall of French severely challenged as I try to explain our difficulties. I manage it though and we come away with a stop-gap solution. It occurs to me that much of holidaying this way is problem-solving and perhaps that’s part of what we enjoy…or not…

At last we get to our chosen site- and it’s lovely, nestling by an enormous natural harbour. There’s time for a walk and a beer, sitting in the sunshine by the marina and we remember what we love about holidaying this way…

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